England's Kate Richardson-Walsh on marrying her team-mate

By Ollie WilliamsOlympic sports reporter
Marriage to team-mate was 'amazing'

Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh grew up together, became world-class hockey players together and won Olympic medals together. Nine months ago, they were married.external-link

If two England footballers heading to this year's World Cup were set to celebrate their first anniversary, coverage would be difficult to avoid.

Back in January, former Premier League player Thomas Hitzlsperger announced he was gay "to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards".

However, hockey's same-sex wedding sparked little coverage beyond congratulations. There was no discussion - players say none was needed.

"We are a couple, we love each other and we happen to be playing in the same team," says 34-year-old Kate Richardson-Walsh, the England captain.

"I feel quite proud that I was brought up around hockey, where there have been lots of different ethnicities, religions, sexualities and so on. It's normal, and I feel proud of that.

"We're very professional in that we draw a line and when we're at hockey we are Kate and Helen, hockey players and team-mates.

"Away from hockey we're Kate and Helen the couple. It's important that line is drawn and to be able to say to each other 'that's not good enough', and not start having a row about it afterwards.

"We do talk about hockey at home. We don't row about it but we have really good debates because we're so passionate about the game and passionate about the squad."

On the field, Kate and 32-year-old Helen have led the restoration of Britain as a hockey force.

Kate & Helen Richardson-Walsh hold up their shirts with their names on.
Kate and Helen may not play as England team-mates again, with Kate retiring after the Commonwealth Games

Bronze at London 2012, Team GB's first Olympic hockey medal in two decades, would have been unlikely without influential defender Kate Walsh and tireless midfielder Helen Richardson.

Off the field, when they became the Richardson-Walshes, team-mates believe the couple demonstrated how little trouble hockey has with diversity - a word, and concept, some other sports have struggled to manage.

"The culture of hockey is so much more open. We're so lucky to be hockey players. Everyone is just accepted for who they are," says Beth Storry, who played in goal for Britain at the London Olympics and whose partner is Dutch defender Chantal de Bruijn.

"Ever since I've been young, hockey has been a very open environment if you're gay or lesbian. I couldn't imagine playing in a sport where you couldn't be yourself and not be open about who you are.

"With football, I think it's a great shame - the odds are there are probably a lot of gay men playing in the Premier League. It's a shame you can't be open, you can't be who you want to be. In hockey, nobody judges you, nobody questions you."

The Richardson-Walshes made their Olympic debuts together at Sydney 2000 but only became an item at the Beijing 2008 Games, after Walsh had broken off her engagement to Brett Garrard, the former England and GB men's hockey captain.

The two came through London 2012 to win bronze despite Kate breaking her jaw in the opening group game, leaving Helen to deputise as captain - and worry not only about her loved one undergoing emergency surgery, but also about leading a team now missing a key player.

Kate missed just two games, returning to action with a plate in her jaw and a protective mask.

But now, two years later, something far more painful has happened.

Kate & Helen Richardson-Walsh pose with flowers from England's sponsors Investec.
Kate posted this selfie on Twitter prior to England's first EuroHockey final in 22 years. England lost 2-0 to Germany in a penalty shootout after a 4-4 draw

With hockey's World Cupexternal-link beginning in the Netherlands at the end of this month, Helen has been left out of the England squad. The sport's star couple will be temporarily torn apart.

Having suffered longstanding problems with a ruptured disc in her back, Helen had major surgery earlier this year, followed by an intense battle for fitness ahead of the tournament.

The selectors decided she had not done enough.

"I know in time everything will be okay. For now though, it hurts," she wrote on a blog documenting her rehab.

The World Cup is the sport's pinnacle, alongside the Olympic Games. Winning the title had been one of her lifetime ambitions.

"I've lost the chance to achieve a goal of mine that, not only have I worked incredibly hard for over these last 11 weeks, but absolutely and completely dedicated my life to, 100%, for the past 15 years," she added.

"I have no idea when I'll get to the acceptance stage. I keep fluxing between the anger, bargaining and depression stages, meaning I'm not much fun to be around at the moment."

An emotional Kate, speaking on the BBC programme Inspire, is almost in tears as she recalls the moment she realised Helen had not made the squad. "I kept on refreshing my emails. When it arrived I scanned for her name and it wasn't there. It's just really sad," says the England captain.

"She'd got herself back playing and because there was a month to go, with her experience and what she brings to the team - I am biased - I would have had her in the squad.

"I got myself to the point where I really believed her name would be on the sheet."

She must now lead England at the World Cup knowing her partner and team-mate of more than a decade is sitting at home.

"Kate's going to have to concentrate on the World Cup, yet at the same time needs to care for Helen. But you also just know they're going to get on with it," says Storry, 36, who retired from international hockey after London 2012.

"They're very good at keeping it separate - it's very much business when you're on the pitch, and your private life is separate.

Britain's Kate Walsh (C) shoots towards goal in the women's field hockey bronze medal match between New Zealand and Britain at The Riverbank Arena in London on August 10, 2012.
Kate Richardson-Walsh captained Great Britain in 2012 to their first Olympic medal since 1992 - only the second in their history

"It helps when your partner understands hockey and what it takes to play at that level - to know that when you're going off training again, getting up at a stupid time, or only talking about hockey, it's because you love it."

Kate is now set to retire from the international scene - she will don an England shirt for the last time this summer, looking for the major title that has so far eluded her.

"This is my last season playing in the international team and this potentially could have been the last tournament Helen and I played together, if she'd been selected," she says.

"All of those things make it harder. My emotions are heightened because it is my last season. They say you kind of just know, and I know it is time."

On her blog, Helen wrote: "There's nothing more I would like to see than my wife, Kate, lift the World Cup.

"Of course, I wanted to be by her side when she did, but we've both shared so many highs and lows, and she truly would be worthy of this success."

Watch Kate Richardson-Walsh's full interview with Gabby Logan on Inspire: The Olympic Journey, Sunday, 8 June, BBC Two, 17:30 BST.

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